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Sooke Harbour House
(Andrea Johnson photo)

Sooke

Geography

Sooke hugs the sheltered inner edge of a natural harbour on the southwest coast of Vancouver Island about an hour's drive west of Victoria's Inner Harbour.

The town and the neighboring communities of East Sooke, Otter Point, Shirley, French Beach, Jordan River and Port Renfrew are strung along the Juan de Fuca Strait separating Canada and the United States. This body of cold, deep saltwater is the point of entry for marine traffic travelling from the open Pacific to Vancouver, Seattle and Puget Sound. The vista is framed by Washington state's Olympic mountain range.

Hills, Parkland & Hiking Trails

A narrow band of civilization follows Highway 14 along the coastline. To the northeast of Sooke are the Sooke Hills, a forested watershed that provides drinking water to the Greater Victoria region. While the hills themselves offer limited access, parkland throughout the region is generous.

The Galloping Goose trail winds west from Victoria as far as Leechtown, a Sooke-area goldrush ghost town. A tricky and challenging coastal path is a highlight of East Sooke Park. The Sooke Potholes, a summertime swimming favorite with its deep pools and canyons, is ten minutes from the centre of town. And, most famously, Sooke is the gateway to two world-renowned Pacific oceanfront hiking routes – the Juan de Fuca Trail (which begins just past French Beach west of Sooke) and, its better-known sister route, the West Coast Trail (with its trailhead just beyond Port Renfrew). Learn more about hiking in Sooke.

Fauna, Flora & Forests

A happy roadside sight (and reason to step lightly on the gas peddle here) are families of black-tailed deer. The rare black bear can sometimes be spotted at the edge of the Sooke River awaiting salmon snacks. Elk, mink, river otters, rabbits and raccoons are among the local inhabitants. Bald eagles, herons, cormorants and thousands of migrating ducks patrol the skies, while the off-shore fishing grounds are home to harbour seals, sea lions, pods of orca whales and the occasional gray whale heading north to Alaska or south to the Baja depending on the season.

Second-growth Douglas Fir blankets a region that once relied heavily on the forestry industry.  Western red cedar, hemlock, balsam and Sitka spruce also grow in profusion here. Common plants and vegetation include salal, skunk cabbage, Oregon grape and wild blackberry bushes. The latter begin bearing fruit in August and invite impromptu roadside pickathons.

Climate and Weather

Like much of Vancouver Island, Sooke enjoys a moderate ocean climate that delivers dry, warm (but rarely hot) summers and above-freezing winters that require raingear, gloves and wooly hats.

While the Olympic Peninsula is the wettest spot in the continental U.S., the mountains shelter the region to a certain extent; total precipitation here is about 140 cm/55 inches annually, most of it falling between November and March (heavily enough to create the occasional road closure due to  flooding).  Thrillingly strong winds often blow in off the Pacific during the winters, driving alternating patterns of storm cloud, rain squall and blue-sky sunshine in rapid succession.  Storm watching can be fun here.